The BBC prides itself on being ‘THE Olympic Broadcaster’, and with regard to the Games it has by many accounts been providing an excellent public service. The numbers are impressive: 33 hours a day of live television! 24 live HD channels! 765 accredited BBC staff! Comprehensive coverage plus 24-hour-a-day news! The sheer volume of Olympics coverage is undeniable; in fact, short of locking yourself in a dark room with no television, radio, or internet, it is inescapable. The quality of the coverage, however, is entirely up for debate.
Clare Balding has received widespread praise for her ‘natural empathy and curiosity’, but many of the BBC’s presenters have come under fire. The ‘forced laddishness’ of Gary Lineker has been decried by various viewers; as has the seeming inability of numerous presenters to ask competing athletes anything other than ‘And how do you feel right now?’ Mike Marqusee writes:
‘As one, the media are cajoling us into appropriate displays of Olympic enthusiasm, particularly in relation to British victories. Breathless BBC commentators reiterate the same round of superlatives – “unbelievable”, “incredible”, “amazing”, “brilliant”, “unbelievable” – telling us again and again how unique, how special, how extraordinary these Olympics are. It feels like they’re the ones on performance-enhancing drugs, not the usually sober, poised and realistic competitors.’
The multiple channel interactivity of the BBC coverage is a fine public service in that those who wish to do so (and millions do) may watch any event that takes their fancy without having to pay for a ticket, but is the Olympic coverage so enthusiastic, and therefore so widespread, that it is to the detriment of other services the BBC provides? BBC News 24, for example, has become so obsessed by the Games that all other news has received a cut back service – despite all of the other BBC platforms which exist solely to discuss the Olympics.
Then there is the question of the BBC's ability to give voice to criticism of an event it is so unilaterally (and financially) committed to. The most recent hit on the BBC website for 'Bhopal' and the calls for boycotts related to Dow Chemical, the Olympic sponsor, was on 30 May, months ago. This BBC Magazine piece on the Olympic sponsorship bandwagon is a welcome contribution, but the website is only a minimal part of the Beeb's output - has any mention of brand policing, drones, mass arrests, security fences or dodgy sponsors (all covered on our partner website OurKingdom) made it onto the BBC's TV and radio coverage? If not, why not?
We want to hear your views on all of this. Are the BBC presenters doing well - are they too specialist, or not specialist enough? Do the interviewers ‘lack sensitivity’? Is the coverage of 'Team GB' pushing a sense of forced jingoism, or reflecting genuine patriotic feeling? Do you believe, as Selina O’Grady does, that the gigantism of the Olympics could be a tool to make us happy with the state of Britain today? Ultimately, how much is the BBC's Olympics coverage costing us, and is it worth it?